During pregnancy, labor, birth, and nursing, a woman’s body goes through many physical and hormonal changes to support her health and the development of her baby. During pregnancy, the baby relies on mom’s diet for the nutrients to create healthy cells, organs, and tissues. But let’s face it, even with the best intentions, eating a healthy diet during pregnancy can be tough, especially if you have symptoms like nausea and vomiting. It can be even more challenging if you have limited access to nutritious, fresh foods.
Prenatal multivitamins help support healthy pregnancy by providing key nutrients that might be missing in a mother’s diet (such as folic acid, choline, and iodine). These healthy nutrients help prevent birth defects in a growing baby, especially in the developing brain and spinal cord. Healthcare providers and midwives recommend women take prenatal multivitamins before, during, and after pregnancy.
Folic Acid, Choline, and Iodine Supplements
For decades, healthcare providers have recommended women take folic acid supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but the science now points to the importance of other nutrients, such as iodine and choline, in the development of babies’ brains and nervous systems:
- Folic acid: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women of reproductive age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid each day1. Folic acid helps prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine. Most prenatal multivitamins contain folic acid, but be sure to check the label to make sure the appropriate amount of folic acid is included.
- Choline: The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend 450 mg of choline during pregnancy and 550 mg while breastfeeding. Choline helps support a baby’s brain and nervous system develop while it also prevents certain birth defects. While some prenatal multivitamins contain choline, the recommended intake of choline is larger than what might be included in the prenatal vitamin, so be sure to read the label. You may need to find a separate dietary supplement to get additional choline.
- Iodine: The American Thyroid Association (ATA) recommends 150 mg of iodine supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding.2 Iodine helps support a healthy pregnancy and is required for a baby's body to grow and develop, especially the brain. Most prenatal multivitamins include iodine, but be sure to read and follow the label to make sure you’re getting the right amount.
Prenatal multivitamins are available in many different forms, including tablets, capsules, gel caps, liquids, and gummies. You can find them at your local pharmacy, grocery store, or online. Not all prenatal multivitamins have the same nutrients, so read the labels and talk to your healthcare provider about which supplements are right for you.
Other Supplements to Consider
Some women require iron supplements during pregnancy to help prevent iron deficiency anemia. It is important to note that not all prenatal multivitamin products contain iron, especially gummy products. There are additional nutrients — like calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids — that are important for a healthy pregnancy. These nutrients are usually found in food and are part of a healthy diet. However, if you are on a restricted diet or have an allergy to certain types of foods, you may benefit from dietary supplements.
Healthy Pregnancies with Prenatal Multivitamins
Since half of the pregnancies in the United States not planned3, many experts recommend a prenatal multivitamin for all women who are capable of becoming pregnant. With prenatal multivitamins, you’ll get the right nutrients you need for your baby’s developing brain and body, keeping you both strong and healthy.
1 FolicAcid. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html#:~:text=CDC%20urges%20all%20women%20of,and%20spine%20(spina%20bifida). Accessed01/01/2023.
2 Public Health Committee of the American Thyroid Association, Iodine supplementation for pregnancy and lactation-United States and Canada: recommendations of the American Thyroid Association. Thyroid. 2006;16:949-51.
3 Finer, L.B. and Zolna, M.R.(2016). Declines in Unintended Pregnancy in the United States,2008–2011. New England Journal of Medicine. 2012; 374: 843–852.